Schipper: The 45th likely to get ugly

As Legislature slows to a halt while lawmakers focus on budget negotiations, attention has shifted to what will be the biggest battle for control of the state senate—where Republicans currently enjoy a one-seat majority—in recent history.

Following the tragic passing of Sen. Andy Hill last October, Dino Rossi was appointed to represent the 45th legislative district which is comprised of parts of Redmond, Sammamish, and Kirkland, as well as the cities of Woodinville and Duvall. Rossi, who announced he would not run for the position, will serve until a replacement is elected to serve out the remainder of Hill’s term this November.

This race is shaping up to be one of the biggest campaigns in the country this year, along with gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey and special elections to fill congressional seats in Kansas, Georgia, and Montana. Washington State Republican Party Chairman Susan Hutchison has speculated $10 million could be spent to elect the next senator, which would shatter records.

Last week, Republican Jinyoung Lee Englund announced her campaign for the seat with the backing of Rossi and the senate Republican caucus. She joins Democrat Manka Dhingra as frontrunners for November’s general election.

Lee Englund, who has been living overseas as her husband serves our country in the military, has a record of service working in Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers’s office in Washington, D.C., but has never run for office before. She cited education funding, reducing traffic congestion, and opposing a state income tax as top priorities, as well as expanding on Hill’s legacy of helping the developmentally disabled.

Dhingra, who announced her intention to run in February, is a King County prosecutor that sits on the board of National Alliance on Mental Illness Eastside and supervises the Regional Mental Health Court. Her top priorities are education funding, mental health, violence protection, and “to protect the rights of women.” Despite also being a first time candidate, she’s raised an impressive $200,000 already.

Also announced are lesser-known candidates Republican Ken Smith, Democrat Ian Stratton, and Independent Robert Harris who don’t appear to have any backing from leaders on either side of the aisle.

The stakes for this race are high. We have had divided government since 2013 when two senate Democrats formed an alliance with Republicans to create the Majority Coalition Caucus. Democrats would regain control if they win, and our feeling confident about their chances after Donald Trump took just 28 percent in the district last November.

But counting Republicans out would be foolish. We won a special election for the Senate that saw a record-breaking amount of money spent in 2013, and followed that up with another special election victory for the House in 2015. Furthermore, after all the talk about how Trump would doom Washington state Republicans last year, Democrats only gained one senate seat on Republicans.

The real shame of this race is how it is already shaping up to be everything Andy Hill wasn’t. In an editorial following his death, the Seattle Times characterized Hill as “a tough, fiscally conservative budget negotiator, but avoided dogma and demonization of opponents.”

However, Democrats have been attacking Lee Englund for living with her husband while he was stationed in Japan as an active duty marine. Dhingra has taken to Facebook to say she doesn’t understand women that vote Republican. “I guess self-hate is a powerful thing,” she argued.

We still have a long ways to go until Election Day, but let’s hope all sides can run a clean campaign based on the issues facing these potential legislators in Olympia. It’s what Andy would’ve demanded.

Dec 12 | 2017 Re-Wire Policy Conference | Register